Thinking or Seeing?

Deep Deciding

Our subjective experience presents a very narrow view of the mind. We experience a sequential, slow train of thought. An image bubbles up, a symbol is manipulated, or a future is imagined. This is the the thinking, not the seeing. Knowing seems arises from some vast unconsious store of memory not currently in consciousness, but able to be loaded as needed. Brought to mind, but not part of it.

This conscious experience is misleading because it fails to capture everything going on in the brain. Cal Newport calls the broader enterprise of understanding by using all of the components of the brain deep working. I’ll call deciding using the whole brain deep deciding.

Deep deciding feels like intuition- decisions from the gut are based on internal models of the world. Its a deep understanding of other people that allows us to choose the right thing to say whether the goal is to convince or to comfort.

Our Models

The idea that the brain models the world and the models are used for deciding was, for me, a fundemental insight. It was where the brain science met decision making. These internal brain models are not directly accessabile to us and can’t be directly examined, yet they allow us to know what’s true without thinking at all. We make decisions with any explicit train of thought of weighing alternatives. We can tell ourselves a story about how the world got to be in its present state and what we can do to change it in an instant, without any process in consciousness. The mind is much deeper. In an “aha moment”, puzzlement changes instantly to deep and pervasive understanding … at least for a little while.

This deep thinking by the brain seems natural for the neuroscientist who understands the brain as a complex web of connections that build internal representions – the visual world, the rise and fall of a melody or the complex shades of meaning in a single choice of word. Deciding better depends on improving the quality of those internal representations. It’s in the seeing, not the thinking.

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